Trump gestures during a "Get Out the Vote" rally at the Greater Richmond Convention Center in Richmond, Virginia, on March 2, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court handed Donald Trump a major victory on Monday as he campaigns to regain the presidency, overturning a judicial decision that had excluded him from Colorado’s ballot under a constitutional provision involving insurrection for inciting and supporting the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack.

It was the most consequential election case heard by the court since it halted the Florida vote recount in 2000 with Republican George W. Bush narrowly leading Democrat Al Gore.

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The justices unanimously reversed a December 19 decision by Colorado’s top court to kick Trump off the state’s Republican primary ballot on Tuesday after finding that the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment disqualified him from again holding public office.

Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 5 US election. His only remaining rival for his party’s nomination is former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

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“BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!,” Trump wrote on his social media platform immediately after the ruling.

“We conclude that states may disqualify persons holding or attempting to hold state office. But states have no power under the Constitution to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, especially the presidency,” the unsigned opinion for the court stated.

What's the case about?
The case stemmed from a ruling in December by the state Supreme Court in Colorado, one of the 15 states and territories voting on Super Tuesday.
The court, citing the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ruled that Trump should be kicked off the ballot because of his role in the January 6 attack on Congress, when a mob tried to halt certification of Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars anyone from holding public office if they engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” after once pledging to support and defend the Constitution.
But during two hours of arguments last month, both conservative and liberal justices on the US Supreme Court expressed concern about having individual states decide which candidates can be on the presidential ballot this November.
On Monday, the top court ruled that “responsibility for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates rests with Congress and not the States.”
Multiple additional cases
The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 after the Civil War, was aimed at preventing supporters of the slave-holding breakaway Confederacy from being elected to Congress or from holding federal positions.
The Supreme Court, which includes three justices nominated by Trump, has historically been loath to get involved in political questions, but it is taking center stage in this year’s White House race.

The justices found that only Congress can enforce the provision against federal officeholders and candidates.

Trump was also barred from the ballot in Maine and Illinois based on the 14th Amendment, but those decisions were put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Colorado case.

Trump’s eligibility had been challenged in court by a group of six voters in Colorado - four Republicans and two independents - who portrayed him as a threat to American democracy and sought to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.

The plaintiffs were backed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group.

The ruling came on the eve of Super Tuesday, the day in the US presidential primary cycle when the most states hold party nominating contests. As lawsuits seeking to disqualify Trump cropped up across the country, it was important for his candidacy to clear any hurdles to appear on the ballot in all 50 states.

Fast-tracked arguments

The Supreme Court resolved the Colorado ballot dispute speedily, a timeline that stands in contrast to its slower handling of Trump’s bid for immunity from criminal prosecution in a federal case in which he faces charges for trying to overturn his 2020 election loss. Trump’s trial has been put on hold awaiting the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision - a benefit for him as he campaigns against Biden.

In the Colorado dispute, the justices agreed to take up the case a mere two days after Trump filed his appeal, fast-tracked arguments and issued the written opinion in just over two months.

The justices in the immunity case in December declined a bid to speed up resolution of the matter before a lower court had weighed in, then last week agreed to take up the matter after lower courts had ruled - setting arguments to take place in late April, a much longer timeline.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees. Not since ruling in the landmark case Bush v. Gore, which handed the disputed 2000 US election to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore, has the court played such a central role in a presidential race.

In a bid to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory, Trump supporters attacked police, broke through barricades and swarmed the Capitol. Trump gave an incendiary speech to supporters beforehand, repeating his false claims of widespread voting fraud and telling them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell.” He then for hours rebuffed requests that he urge the mob to stop.

The 14th Amendment was ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War of 1861-1865 in which seceding Southern states that allowed the practice of slavery rebelled against the US government.

In ruling against Trump, Colorado’s top court cited the “general atmosphere of political violence that President Trump created” and that he aided “the insurrectionists’ common unlawful purpose of preventing the peaceful transfer of power in this country.” The Supreme Court heard arguments on Feb. 8. Trump’s lawyer argued that he is not subject to the disqualification language because a president is not an “officer of the United States,” that the provision cannot be enforced by courts absent congressional legislation, and that what occurred on Jan. 6 was shameful, criminal and violent but not an insurrection.

Many Republicans have decried the ballot disqualification drive as election interference, while proponents of disqualification have said holding Trump constitutionally accountable for an insurrection supports democratic values.